Native in learning and knowing
In this article, Saara Salomaa from National Audiovisual Institute, part of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre, shares her views on the concept of digital natives.
2016-03-15 Finnish Safer Internet Centre
"Marc Prensky's famous essay, ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants', was published about 15 years ago, and the rest is history. The concept of a generation of digital natives that is inherently more skilled than adults was readily accepted by educators and it has gained the status of truth in public discussion. The young generation referred to in the original text is around 30 years old at the moment, but the term is still used in justifying the superiority of children's digital skills over those of their parents. When research* does not support the black and white generation theory, urban legends are used for cementing existing beliefs and, if necessary, terminology is renewed accordingly. Most people will have heard the story of the toddler who mistook a book for a touch screen.
"However, there's a long way from swiping on a page of a book to proving ‘touch screen nativeness'. According to research, a book is still a very familiar interface to toddlers. I, on the other hand, tend to swipe on regular screens with my fingers when not paying attention, because I am used to working with touch screens. Media convergence, i.e. mixing different content types and media, makes it easy for all of us to forget the kind of device we are currently using. For a child, it is natural to explore the possibilities of any given thing: to swipe on a book as if it was a smartphone, to use cooking pots for drums and to draw on the wall. Children are native in exploring, trying and experiencing. This is an admirable quality worth cherishing in every aspect of life, from a day out in nature to digital media environments.
"While the year of birth does not make anyone a digital wizard, some children impress with their skills. In my work, I participate in a number of media literacy events where there are often highly-skilled children and adolescents present: bloggers, photographers and videographers, coders, movie makers. Their knowledge should certainly be promoted, but all too often adults fall into the trap of digital nativeness when confronted with the skills of adolescents; an excellent achievement is downplayed by treating it as an example of the natural skills of the youth of today.
"After all, the skills of a young person are not a result of their youth, any more than the qualifications of a female educational specialist are an expression of ‘women's natural instinct to care'. Profound knowhow and skills always require time, effort and dedication to develop. Therefore, children and young people who demonstrate an impressive level of digital skills should be seen as noteworthy and inspiring examples of utilising the opportunities that anyone has. Likewise, those who do not yet master their digital environment in a sovereign manner should not be considered freaks among their peers, but children and adolescents who are starting to learn to navigate the world of different media.
"In Finland, more than 40 organisations co-operate in creating campaigns and materials for the Media Literacy Week. Our goal has been to offer new ideas to the learners of media skills and explorers of media environment of all ages and skill sets. We want to learn and teach together, and be happy about the fact that digital literacy is not the privilege of a single generation."
Find out more about the Finnish Safer Internet Centre.
Visit the Finnish Safer Internet Centre SID profile. Safer Internet Day in Finland is celebrated as Media Literacy Week.
* More information on the criticism of the idea of digital nativeness is available in Reijo Kupiainen's article "Diginatiivit ja käyttäjälähtöinen kulttuuri" (Digital natives and the user-oriented culture) and its sources.